While skimming around Scalzi’s blog, I found a link to this post by Patrick Rothfuss about advice for aspiring writers, along with a note by John saying he agrees. I recommend clicking through and reading it (if you want) but the Readers Digest version is that aspiring writers should live somewhere cheap so they have plenty of time to write.
One of the places Rothfuss mentions is Seattle, my own adopted hometown, as though people would need to work 70-hour weeks to survive, and when would those city folk do their writing, huh? When?
Well, hey, I was an aspiring writer in Seattle for almost two decades and I never worked a 70-hour week in my life. At first, I shared an apartment for several months, crashing on a friend’s couch. That was back in ’89-90. Then we rented a house–a thousand bucks a month split four/five ways, depending who had come and who had gone.
Then my wife and I moved in together back in ’94. We’ve lived in the same apartment since then, with only a couple of minor rent increases.
Yeah, on one hand we’re lucky. On another we’re typical. We decided to live cheaply and we have. We don’t own a car. We just cancelled our cable. We don’t own a cell phone or an x-box, and if my wife were more tech-savvy we’d be all over Skype. My wife walks to the supermarket with a cart and carries our groceries home. I ride the bus to work (which is less than 30-minutes away, by design). My wife and I both have part-time jobs (if you don’t count my writing, which I don’t for this discussion). We work three days, homeschool the other three.
I don’t say this to crow about my virtue, such as it is. It’s really not a matter of virtue. It’s about choices. Living in a city means I can pinch pennies that non-urbanites can’t. It also means that I have access to public services that make it possible to live poor. The downtown bus that goes near my apartment is considered to run on a meager schedule, but that only means it passes by every 45 minutes. And if I take it the other way, I can ride to one of the largest parks in the city.
And that doesn’t even touch on our library system here, which is wonderful despite the belt-tightening that’s been ongoing.
You know what else helps? Living wages. The median wage in Southcentral Wisconson non-metropolitan areas is less than $13.50 an hour. In Seattle, it’s nearly twenty bucks. Yeah, it’s balanced by a higher cost of living, but there are ways to make that money go farther.
Above all that, you have museums, concerts, galleries, independent bookstores, and people. Lots and lots of people to meet.
What I’m saying isn’t that Rothfuss is wrong (actually, I’ll say that here: “He’s wrong”), it’s that you don’t need to run off to Small Town, USA to have time for your writing. You don’t need to work 70-hour weeks (or even 60- or even 40- hour weeks) to survive out here. You just have to want it.
Now, once you have a writing contract and are making your pennies from your books, that might be the time to run off to the hills and live cheap on your advances–if you can give up all those libraries and museums.